Men who kill their wives are not “jealous husbands”, they’re murderers

We cannot continue to romanticise domestic abuse, say Luke and Ryan Hart, whose father murdered their mother and sister in 2016

Geraldine Newman and her daughter, Shannon

by Zoe Beaty |

Paul Newman was a 42-year-old man who, on 1 February this year, beat his ex-wife, Geraldine, with a hammer before murdering their two children. Shane, six, and 11-year-old Shannon were stabbed 22 times. Hours later, he died by suicide.

Newman died a murderer, but this final attack on his wife was not his first. In October 2013, he was jailed for 17 weeks for assault by battery. He had beaten Geraldine after reading texts on her phone from another man, according to court reports. Their marriage dissipated in December 2015, but reports say that Geraldine texts friends saying she was “terrified” weeks before Newman killed her.

Yet some recent reports tell a different story. Read them and you’d be forgiven for believing that Newman was little more than a lovelorn Romeo figure, who was merely bereft at the thought of his family living a life without him. The man who repeatedly hit his wife with a hammer is described as a “caring and kind person” and his repeated attacks are at least partially justified by his wife’s actions – of texting another man, of having the temerity to leave him and (in Newman’s mind, at least) of moving on to new love. Headline after headline describes him first as a “dad-of-two” – familial and loyal – who happened to kill, despite two of his gravest crimes being committed on his only two children.

Details that were omitted from the Mail Online report include the fact that his first conviction of violence against Geraldine saw her “left for dead” after he repeatedly stamped on her head. After Newman served his time, he was monitored by West Yorkshire police for just one year. A friend, who claims she met Geraldine when she sought help through a domestic violence charity, alleges that Newman continued to attack his wife. Despite efforts to include quotes about Newman’s personality, no tributes or acknowledgements were afforded to his victims.

“If there was a guideline on how not to report domestic violence then the Daily Mail report on this case would be a perfect example,” says Ryan Hart, whose father shot and murdered his mum, Claire, 50, and sister, Charlotte, 19, in their hometown of Spalding, Lincolnshire in 2016, before killing himself. Since then, Ryan and his brother Luke have been raising much needed awareness around domestic abuse and homicide by sharing their own experiences.

“It makes me angry to read. Judging by reports like that one, the national press – a powerful and influential system – is still looking for a tired stereotype of an abuser who is rolling in drunk from the pub on a Friday night and looking for a fight. So when it doesn’t quite fit the narrative they’re seeking, the case is presented as an isolated incident, not a part of a huge, systemic problem.”

Hart notes that even the coroner overseeing Newman’s death spoke in sympathy with the killer. “According to the coroner, Newman was an ‘isolated individual’ who was ‘overwhelmed’ by the thought that he might lose his children. And we are expected to think, by that, ‘what a poor man’. His wife left him. She took his children. Why? Because he abused her.

“Is this not a situation that he created himself, by treating a woman as a possession, something to be owned and controlled? He is entirely responsible. But his crimes are depicted as a ‘mistake’, or a bit of a misunderstanding. Or they’re presented as though he just fell victim to mental ill-health.”

Often, reports depicting murder-suicide where domestic homicide is concerned default to using mental health as a “catch-all” explanation for violent male behaviour, says Hart. Indeed, reports of the Newman case needlessly point out that he was “on antidepressants and suffered with OCD”. Hart says: “In the reporting of our family’s case we saw this very thing – the idea that having mental health difficulties somehow alleviates violent men of some responsibility – over and over again.'

Hart points out that in focusing on Newman's mental health, we're making the story about his suicide, not about the abuse and murder of his wife and children. "Focusing on this element - prioritising good male mental health over the abolition of violence against women and girls – sends a clear message that the victims are not cared about. At the bottom of the Mail Online report they ask readers to call the Samaritans if they are in similar positions – there is no mention of domestic abuse charities. For them, it’s clearly not about the safety of victims. Not only that, but it’s insulting and problematic to associate antidepressants and mental ill-health with murder.”

Ultimately though, irresponsible reporting puts women in increased danger by justifying “reasons” (like jealousy, or abandonment) for violence – as well as legitimising feelings of personal fault for the victim or muddying how making it harder to escape. At the heart of it, Hart says, is a crude acceptance of violence against women.

“You can clearly see the misogyny by looking at the differences in reporting between a case like this, where a woman was murdered, and reports of the update on Sally Challen’s case last week,” says Hart. “Everywhere I looked following Challen’s hearing I saw headlines screaming ‘Hammer-killer wife’, describing her.

“Newman used a hammer to kill his wife yet, that detail isn’t in the headline at all. In fact it’s mentioned just once in the entire Mail Online report on his case. Instead he is a ‘caring’ guy, a typical ‘jealous husband’ – not a possessive abuser. The hammer is considered irrelevant. Of course, Challen was escaping control and Newman was exercising control. But the media still overwhelmingly sympathises with him,” says Hart.

“Language – even subtleties in language – are so incredibly important when it comes to ending violence against women. It matters."

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us